You can hire the best minds in the business, but if they're not working collaboratively with others, those hires can be a colossal waste of resources. It's not necessary the fault of the non-collaborators. They may not be trained on how to collaborate. They might not even recognize its usefulness. Heck, they might not really know what it means to truly collaborate.
So, let's start with this basic question. Many of us think we know what it means to collaborate, but are actually confusing it with cooperation. When every person on a given team creates his or her own plan, then shares it with the team at larger, that's cooperation, according to Creating a Collaborative Culture, a white paper by University of North Carolina Chapel Hill's UNC Keenan-Flagler Business School. And that's not a bad thing.
But true collaboration, assert researchers at Chapel Hill, makes organizations even stronger, and here's why. Because collaboration occurs when collective achievement overrides employees' individual goals. You know it's happening when employees engage in an actual exchange of strategies and ideas - rather than simply one colleague presenting his or her ideas to others. The result? It could be a game changer for an organization, as you never know what outcomes or new directions result from true collaboration.
Unfortunately, collaboration doesn't always come easily. And that's not the only problem with this critical skill. Few recognize what it truly means to collaborate. "Having worked with hundreds of managers over the years, I've seen that very few admit to being poor collaborators, mostly because they mistake their cooperativeness for being collaborative," writes Ron Ashkenas, Partner Emeritus for the Schaffer Consulting, in the Harvard Business Review.
Stranger still, despite the widespread lack of understanding about what it means to collaborate in a work setting, most employers deem it critical to their companies' success. Case in point: In a survey by Clear Company, an estimated two-thirds of employers rated collaboration "very important".
Gauging workers' collaborative ability
So, then, is there a magic formula for encouraging workplace collaboration?
It starts with an inherent willingness and desire to collaborate, which depends largely on individuals' personality. "Visionaries" enjoy sharing ideas with other workers - but whether they're open to hearing others' ideas is up for debate. "Problem solvers" enjoy resolving workplace challenges, but whether they think to collaborate with fellow workers in doing so depends on the individual - and the workplace culture.
For a good sense of whether the workers in your organization have what it takes to be strong collaborators, plug into new technology like Traitify- a psychology-backed assessment comprised of a diverse set of fun visual assessments to uncover personality types and traits. It lets employers learn about candidates' personality traits and, in turn, gauge what type of collaborators they can be - possibly even before they're hired.
Building a collaborative environment
Hiring collaborative-minded employees is the best way to form the foundation of a collaborative workplace. The next step is to build into the workplace proven practices that promote collaboration. A report in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) offers some solid suggestions.
It starts with Executive Support. You know, that old top-down theory. There's a reason it's been around so long: It works. Research into the inner workings of complex collaborative teams work in ways that were both productive and innovative shared a similarity: The organizations' senior execs "had invested significantly in building and maintaining social relationships throughout the organization", asserts the HBR report. It didn't have to be any particular type of social relationship. In fact, the more unique and well-suited to the given organization, the more effective the relationships were.
In addition to garnering support from senior management, an organization's human resources folks also play an important role, according to the HBR report. Getting human resources (HR) involved lends a framework to building social relationships. For instance, if HR develops policies and practices that support the building of social relationships - whether it's allowing all employees to travel off-site for an allotted number of hours per month to participate in community service or carving out time regularly for company cookouts - it's going to be a lot easier for all employees, top to bottom, to participate and truly get to know one another.
And in order to truly collaborate - to really listen to others' ideas, to add and blend input that may shift those ideas ever-so-slightly, and to work as a team to continue building a bigger and bolder and more innovative solution to the original challenge - it is imperative to know your colleagues.
So make sure the big bosses are on board with collaboration. Encourage HR to develop a framework for building social relationships at every rung in the workplace ladder. Then witness collaboration take off. It may look like nothing you've ever witnessed in the workplace.
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